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‘Thank you for being a role model’: Gainesville City Councilman Wangemann will not seek reelecton amid cancer diagnosis
Gainesville City Council member George Wangemann talks with Donna Failyer after giving her an invitation to a council meeting. Wangemann regularly visited Gainesville neighborhoods to invite citizens to attend meetings. (File photo) - photo by Tom Reed

Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann said he was unaware earlier this month that Mayor Sam Couvillon planned to read a proclamation recognizing his decades of service.

Wangemann saw his family in the back of the room just as Couvillon began to speak.

“...George Wangemann has devoted nearly 40 years to improving the community by attending meetings and serving on various boards and committees,” the proclamation states. “Whereas George Wangemann is an advocate for community beautification with dedicated service to Keep Hall Beautiful and countless volunteer hours devoted to community cleanup events throughout Hall County…Wangemann’s passion for community outreach is apparent as a founding board member of the Community Council on Aging and through dedicated service to Georgia Mountain Food Bank.”

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George Wangemann - photo by Scott Rogers

Wangemann, 72, has been diagnosed with bladder cancer. He’s decided not to seek reelection in 2024.

“My father (was) a very involved person in his community, and he always encouraged me to become involved,” Wangemann said. “He told me he was going to run for Congress at one time. (He) never did, but he said, ‘I’ll save that for you.’ I never had a strong desire to run for Congress, but I do have a strong desire to serve my community.”

Despite his declining health, Wangemann’s commitment to the Gainesville-Hall County community remains unwavering. On March 25, Wangemann walked through pain caused by cancer, ridding Holly Park of the trash that littered its grounds.

His service to the community extends beyond his time on council. 

Wangemann’s service to others began to flower the moment he arrived in Gainesville in 1979. Almost 30-years-old at the time, right away Wangemann sought to become deeply involved in the community – both as a volunteer and an elected leader.

While his political influence never reached the national level, Wangemann’s drive to push for a cleaner and better Gainesville-Hall County has never relented. 

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Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann takes the last plunge of the day into Lake Lanier for the 17th annual Polar Bear Swim fundraiser. Wangemann, who according to local tradition takes the first and last New Year’s Day plunge, had done 15 consecutive Polar Bear Swims to benefit the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. “It was pretty cold, but not the coldest,” Wangemann said after climbing back onto the dock. The coldest year was circa 2002, Wangemann said. “There was a thin sheet of ice on the water,” he said. (File Photo) - photo by NAT GURLEY

In 1985, not long after his arrival, Wangeman, a salesman at the time, had just checked into a hotel when he received a call from a former councilman. Over the phone, he asked Wangemann if he’d accept an appointment to Gainesville’s Board of Education. 

Wangemann agreed, and after two years on the board, he announced his candidacy for a seat on city council. He ran against that very councilman, winning by a narrow margin.

“I beat (my opponent) by 23 votes, and the key, to me, was working hard, going door-to-door and asking people to vote for me,” Wangemann said. “I wasn’t ready to run for the big office, and to this day I’m glad I never did, because I love serving my community.”

Wangemann’s presence as a leader in Gainesville only grew. He went on to become a board member of Keep Hall Beautiful, a local nonprofit that strives for the continued beautification of Hall County. 

After more than 30 years with the nonprofit, Wangemann has sought to preserve the county’s beauty in lasting balance with nature. He’s donated hundreds of trees – from dogwoods to elms – that have been planted on lawns throughout the city. Throughout his life, he’s also spent countless hours clearing trash from city streets, sidewalks and parks.

“I almost resented trash on the streets, and I hate to see trash anywhere,” Wangemann said. “I decided I’d become involved and help others get it off the streets. Keep Hall Beautiful has done some great things, and I’m just glad to have been a part of what they do.”

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Gainesville city councilman George Wangemann joins solid waste workers shoveling snow at the public safety complex. (File photo) - photo by NAT GURLEY

Wangemann, a father of five with his wife Judy and an avid member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, credits his family, his Christian faith and involvement in the Gainesville-Hall County community for keeping him going even in sickness.

He continues to work at a dental design office and as the elected representative of Gainesville’s Ward 4 seat – which he described as a full-time job in itself.

Reflecting on his time in government and as a volunteer in the community, Wangemann’s message to others is clear: if a person can set a positive example within their community, others will follow that example.

“People do look at examples, and if you’re an example in the community for service, they want to become more involved when they see something good happen,” he said. “ great thing about (Gainesville’s) City Council is that we work together very well, and really have since I started on council.”

Over the years, Wangemann has responded with members of his church to a number of natural disasters throughout the U.S., aiding in cleanup efforts from Florida to Louisiana – places ravaged by severe storms around the southeast. 

Of those memories, one he’ll never forget is cleanup after a destructive tornado in Hall County. Wangemann was on the ground, alongside more than 400 others, clearing limbs and debris as residents came together to rebuild in the wake of the storm. He said it’s a moment he’ll forever remember, as he witnessed the community bond together in response to the disaster. 

“It made me feel (even) more a part of my own community,” he said. “Any time you get involved in the lives of people in a good way, good things are going to happen – to you, and to them.”

For Wangemann, an integral part of his philosophy to create a better world comes down to one word – people: the conviction that when people work together, good things tend to happen. 

It’s a philosophy he’s not only believed – but lived by. In 2010, Wangemann was featured in the Gainesville Times for his efforts to encourage greater civic involvement, delivering formal invitations to the city’s regular meetings to 50 residents every week.

Keeping true to this people-centered philosophy, Wangemann said he plans to continue to work with others and help the people of his community for as long as he can, adding, “I just want to be involved…I want to be involved with people, helping them where I can.”

The proclamation read by Couvillon last week went on to emphasize Wangemann’s lasting role in Gainesville and Hall County, stating, “Now, therefore it be resolved, that I, Sam Couvillon, mayor, and Gainesville City Council extend a heartfelt appreciation to George Wangemann for his commitment of loyalty and community service. Your accomplishments are a reminder of your impact on the Gainesville-Hall County community. We are forever grateful for your unwavering dedication…”

Councilwoman Barbara Brooks was among city officials who recognized Wangemann last week. 

“Thank you for being a role model – for all of us and for members of any government,” Brooks said. “Thank you for your example of composure, for your patience, for your humility, your honesty…you are so wonderful, and I appreciate you so very much. All of us do.”

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Newly re-elected Gainesville Ward 4 city councilman George Wangemann takes the oath of office from Chief Superior Court Judge Andrew Fuller as his wife, Judy Wangemann, holds the Bible. - photo by NAT GURLEY
Gainesville City Councilman Robert “Bob” Hamrick and Councilman George Wangemann ride in a parade down Green Street. - photo by For The Times
Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann passes out envelopes containing a butterfly to youths. (File photo)
Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann, left, and Hall County Commissioner Billy Powell join in the planting of a Hearts of Gold redbud tree in front of the Gainesville Public Safety Building during the annual Arbor Day program. (File photo)